The impacts of the demand for woody biomass for power and heat on climate and forests

The use of wood for electricity generation and heat in modern (non-traditional) technologies has grown rapidly in recent years, and has the potential to continue to do so. For its supporters, it represents a relatively cheap and flexible way of supplying renewable energy, with benefits to the global climate and to forest industries. To its critics, it can release more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere than the fossil fuels it replaces, and threatens the maintenance of natural forests and the biodiversity that depends on them. It is also steadily being undercut, in cost terms, by other renewable technologies. Just like the debate around transport biofuels a few years ago, this has become a highly contested subject with very few areas of consensus. This paper summarizes the conclusions of two Chatham House research papers: Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Global Patterns of Demand and Supply reviews the recent and anticipated future growth of demand for wood for electricity generation and heat in modern technologies, and identifies the likely sources of supply, in recent years and in the future; Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate provides an overview of the debate around the impact of wood energy on greenhouse gas emissions, and reaches conclusions for policymakers on the appropriate way forward.